Rescue at Cabanatuan
of the Objective Area
At Balingcari LTC Mucci and CPT Prince met the Alamo Scouts who reported: “The camp is guarded by approximately 200 soldiers and up to 1,000 are bivouacked by the Cabu Bridge.” LT Nellist confirmed the guerrilla report that an enemy division was moving past the camp toward Cabu. The Scout leader suggested: “If we wait twenty-four hours, sir, they will move on.”31 Mucci agreed and slipped the attack until 1945 hours on 30 January. He radioed Alamo Force headquarters where COL White was standing by, to delay the air support 24 hours later.32
31 Zedric, Silent Warriors, 189.
32 Mucci, “Rescue at Cabanatuan,” 15-16, quote from 16.
LT Nellist decided to pair up some of his shorter Scouts with CPT Pajota’s men. Borrowing some farm clothing, they began moving about the area looking like locals. They took notes, sketched the camp, kept track of the guard routines, and became familiar with key parts of the camp. The combined Scout/guerrilla teams located the guard barracks, POW buildings, guard towers and bunkers, and transient troops housing. They discovered a shed with four light tanks and marked its location. The Cabanatuan-Cabu City road (Highway 5) ran directly across the northern edge of the POW camp.33
33 Alexander, Shadows in the Jungle, 238-40.
LT Nellist and PFC Rufo V. ‘Pontiac’ Vaquilar, a native Filipino in the Scouts, really got into the farmer ruse. They found a grass hut containing farm tools just 300 meters in front of the front gate of the prison that overlooked the entire camp. Dressed as native farmers with large straw hats pulled low over their faces, the two Scouts approached the hut. They stopped periodically to inspect the surrounding crops. Nellist walked stooped over and limped. Separately, and by meandering routes, the two entered the hut and then remained all day taking notes. As Nellist and Vacquilar took turns sketching and observing the camp, “the natives would get the appropriate people, bring them in to us, and we’d question them and find out just exactly what we wanted to know.” With all that information, Nellist and PFC Vaquilar made detailed maps of the camp and annotated key elements on a G-2 aerial photo. At dusk the two returned to the rendezvous point with a wealth of information. “We knew which way the gate opened. We knew how many guards there were, what time they changed, how many strands of wire there were, and the works,” 1LT Nellist stated.34
34 Alexander, Shadows in the Jungle, 238-40; Zedric, Silent Warriors, 189-91, quotes from 190.
The pairing of Scouts with guerrillas increased the effectiveness of both units. Pooling them together produced a synergistic effect and allowed them to maximize each other’s capabilities. It combined the technical expertise of the Alamo Scouts with the guerrillas’ keen knowledge of the area and ability to move freely. The guerrillas lived near the camp, and were familiar with it and the surrounding fields, rivers, and woods. The Scouts were well practiced in observation and reporting. They were able to discern the types of enemy bunkers, pillboxes, and guard posts, and were trained in determining their fields of fire and other specifics. The small combined reconnaissance teams covered a large area within a remarkably short time.
The guerrillas’ ability to move freely facilitated their collection capability. An adolescent guerrilla rode a carabao (indigenous ox used for farming tasks and mobility) around the camp. He could estimate distances and see the Japanese defensive positions up close. A female guerrilla sold fruit to soldiers guarding the front gate, and then passed the information learned back to her leader. Each effort added another piece to the puzzle.35
35 Alexander, Shadows in the Jungle, 238-40.
The Alamo Scouts and guerrillas gathered at Plateros at 0300 hours on 30 January. LTC Mucci listened to their reports and was pleased that all his critical questions had been answered. “I had the camp mapped and, after drawing up the plan of action, we decided to attack that night.”36
36 Mucci, “We Swore We’d Die or Do It,” 19.